Monday, December 24, 2018

The thrill of hope!


Join me please, “Silent night, holy night…” As you may know, this most beloved of Christmas hymns celebrates its 200th birthday today. The words were written by a priest in a small Austrian town, Fr. Joseph Mohr. Fr. Mohr brought his words to a friend in a nearby village, composer Franz Gruber, who added the melody. On Christmas Eve, 1818, the church organ was not functioning, some say that church mice got at it, and so this beautiful hymn was played accompanied by guitar to honor the birth of the Savior that night. It quickly became popular and spread throughout the world becoming one of the most popular Christmas hymns ever. 

There is something so wonderful about the songs of this season and how they connect us with the deep spiritual reality of the birth of Christ. While we all know well the story of Silent Night, most people do not know the history of another favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night, a history deeply connected to Christmas Eve.

The story of this song begins in 1847 in a small French town with a man named Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure. Placide was a socialist and not a church-goer, but at the time he was a well-known poet, and the local priest asked him to write a poem for the upcoming Christmas. Placide agreed and once done, decided that his poem was so good it should be made into a song. So he contacted a composer friend Adolphe Adams. But, Adams was Jewish, and was now asked to compose the most Christian of hymns. On Christmas Eve of that year, the song was debuted at Midnight Mass – a song whose lyrics were written by a socialist who left the church and whose music was written by someone who didn’t even believe in Jesus. And, of course, as we know, it was a big hit. But, once church officials learned the history of the writers, and the song was immediately banned from use. The Catholic Church in France deemed the song unfit for church services because of what they called its lack of musical taste and “total absence of the spirit of religion.”

But, though the church had banned the song, it was so popular that people kept singing it, and eventually it made its way across the sea here to America now into the hands of John Sullivan Dwight who felt it needed to be introduced to America, but not only because it told a timeless story. You see, Dwight, was an abolitionist, and America was in the midst of the Civil War. Dwight strongly identified with the lines: “Truly he taught us to love one another, his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease.” Dwight translated the song into English and published it. The song caught on quickly, especially here in the North.

Back to France and yet another Christmas Eve, now in 1871. In the midst of fierce fighting between Germany and France during the Franco-Prussian war, a French soldier jumped out of his foxhole, and with no weapon in his hand, lifted his eyes to the heavens and sang the first verse of this song in French. As he reached the end, a German soldier climbed unarmed out of his trench and began to sing the German Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” The fighting stopped immediately and the soldiers held to a ceasefire for Christmas Day.

Finally, one more Christmas Eve. Now it was 1906, and a 33-year-old professor and former chemist for Thomas Edison named Reginald Fessenden, using a new type of generator, spoke into a microphone and, for the first time in history, a person’s voice was broadcast over the airways. What did he say? He said, “And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed…” The first words ever broadcast over the radio were from Luke, the story of the birth of Jesus. Imagine the reaction of radio operators on ships and radio owners across the world when their normal Morse Code dots and dashes were interrupted by a human voice reading Sacred Scripture. But Fessenden wasn’t done. After he finished reading, he picked up his violin and played O Holy Night – making it the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves.

There is perhaps no hymn more deeply connected to this holy night. Let me speak about just one line in this song that has been coming to me in prayer throughout this season leading us to today: “The thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices.” Isn’t that a wonderful statement – not just hope. The author didn’t merely write, “We’re filled with hope.” No, he paired hope with another very important word – thrill. When we think of hope, I think we usually conceptualize it in very ordinary ways. We think of hope as a kind of optimism (We say, “I hope things will go well”); or a form of positive thinking (“I’m very hopeful about the future.”) Or even a kind of blind faith (“I hope I’ll get through this.”). This can’t be what the song is talking about. Those are all good things, but thrilling? You see, I think the thrill of hope expresses something so profoundly deep that it is life changing. Something so amazing that this kind of hope leaves us different than the way it found us. Of course, the hope of this hymn is the very event we celebrate today – the birth of Jesus. Our hope is not merely a momentary rush or an exciting situation or circumstance. Our hope, our Christmas hope, is in the long-awaited Messiah, born to set His people free – born to set us free. And that is a hope that is truly thrilling!

I’m sure the world into which Jesus was born was weary. “A weary world rejoices.” It was weary of Roman occupation that crushed the people under the weight of this massive empire. Weary of religious oppression that made it difficult and even illegal for people to worship the One True God. Weary of waiting for the promise of the Messiah to be fulfilled – a promise that God had been speaking to His Chosen People for countless centuries by the time of Jesus.

And, I don’t know about you, but I think we too can relate to that notion that a weary world rejoices. After all, we’re weary too. There are so many things that make us weary. We can be weary of the simple things – sitting in traffic, weary of waiting in checkout lines, weary of being sick, weary of the stresses of the holidays. But we also bear a weariness that goes deeper. We can be weary of looking for the right person or the right job. Weary of wondering when life is going to be worth living. Weary of waiting to see if God really cares about us. We can be weary about the state of our world – still so troubled by war and terror and violence; we can be weary about the state of our nation – where racism and discrimination have reared their ugly heads again, where dignity and honor seem to be gone from the public sphere, where greed and power have replaced any desire to feed the hungry, welcome the refugee, reach out to those on the margins. We can be weary indeed.

And into our weariness, what Jesus promises us is nothing short of “the thrill of hope.” I love that! When we are given this hope, it is thrilling. The birth of Jesus signifies an end to our weariness. We don’t have to keep doing things the same way. We don’t have to keep asking the same questions. We don’t have to wonder if our soul is worth anything. Because, “Yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!” That line is so wonderful. Yonder breaks a new and glorious morn! Jesus is no longer yonder! Jesus is here. Hope is here. And that hope is thrilling!

But the story of this hymn still isn’t over. What makes this hymn different than many others we sing at this time of year is that it not only contains praise, but also prescription. Placide left us with marching orders for how we are to respond to this thrill of hope. This hymn tells us what to do, “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace.” If we are to be given hope by Christ’s birth, then that hope will shine through in how we treat each other. Even when surrounded by hatred and violence we are called to treat each other with the love and peace Christ has brought us, in a way that is noticeable by the world around us.

“Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease.” We are called to work so that others can enjoy the same blessings as us, blessings of freedom and justice. God’s work is our work. What are we doing to give others the thrill of hope? What are we doing to help others break the chains of oppression, the chains of addiction, the chains of racism and prejudice and indifference? What are we doing to show others the worth of their soul?

My friends, we are filled with the thrill of hope once again because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. On that night so long ago in Bethlehem, Christ came to us. As we find ourselves on this Christmas night, Christ wants to be born in us again. And when Christ in born in our hearts, He calls us to let Him be born through us for all our world to see.

This wonderful hymn comes to us from a teenage unwed mother and a Jewish carpenter in a little Middle Eastern town. It comes from a socialist to a Jewish composer to an abolitionist preacher and across the airwaves. But this story is not over. There is still one more Christmas (Eve) to tell the long story of this song. This one. Today. There is still a weary world out there in need of hope. There are still countless people out there in need of love and peace. There are our own friends and family who are shackled by grief and depression and loneliness, far from God, far from His love. There are people who are held in bondage by oppressive systems and the power of prejudice. Do we have a song to sing to them, a song about hope? Do we have a story to tell them, a story about the worth of their soul and new and glorious morn? I believe we do. So go yonder and sing it, go yonder and tell it, go yonder and live it! Christ is born again today in us, and His arrival once again fills us with the thrill of hope. Let us tell our story of this holy night.

My friends, may the Lord fill you with peace tonight. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and the thrill of hope that God has promised through the birth of His Son.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

God is with us!

HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 23, 2018:

Shakespeare famously wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are interesting, and they usually come with a story. Let me give you an example. I have a beautiful black and white cat named Lucky. I have had lucky for more than 18 years, and he was originally a rescue after he had been injured as a kitten. The local vet was looking for someone to adopt him or they’d have to put him down. So, being a good Franciscan, I took him. I asked my then 6 year old niece to give him a name and she came up with Lucky because as she said, “He’s lucky to be alive.”

Names can also say something about who we are and where we come from. For example, I recently led a pilgrimage to Ireland. I am of Irish-American descent, so this trip gave me a chance to connect with the roots of my family and our origins. During the journey, we traveled to some of the places that my family came from in Ireland which gave me a sense of those roots. Doing some research on my family, I was amazed when I looked up my great-grandfather, Thomas Mitchell, who was born in Ireland, whose name I share. I never knew him, he returned to the Lord long before I was born, but you feel a connection when you share a family name. As I was doing the research, l came across his baptismal record and was stunned to discover that he was born on September 1, 1879. My birthday is also September 1, just 89 years after his. For me, sharing his name, and sharing the same birthday, deepened my connection to this relative whose name I share. Names usually tell us something about who we are. You probably have great stories about your own name or some of the names in your family.

And, so much of our Advent reflection has also been about names; in fact, two names in particular. All through Advent, we hear the name Emmanuel. We’ve sung many times already, “O come, Emmanuel.” And, of course, the second name we reflect upon is Jesus, the child whose birth we so eagerly await.

When we look a little deeper, we realize that these two names have great meaning for us. The name Emmanuel tells us something very important about the birth of this child. It tells us that this is no ordinary child. When He is born, His birth will mean, as His name means, that “God is with us.” His birth signifies something different in the whole of human history. We do not have a God who loves us from afar; a God who is distant and aloof; a God who communicates to us always through someone or something else. No, our God comes to us directly – to be in our midst as one of us; to know our joys and hopes; our struggles and challenges. To proclaim His love to us directly. Out God is with us!

And then we have the name Jesus – the name that the angels tells both Joseph and Mary that they are to give to this child. This name also tells us something more about what this presence of God among us means. The name Jesus means, “God is salvation.” The name tells us that Jesus is not here only to be among us, but that the effect of His presence in our midst will also do something so amazing – Jesus presence in our midst will open the gates of salvation for us. When we look at these names together we learn what we’re really meant to hear: that the birth of this child will mean that our God is with us and He is our salvation!

My friends, as we enter these final hours of our Advent journey, let us be mindful of what we celebrate – the fact that our God loves us so much that He became one of us; that He enters our world, dwells with us, as one of us; He enters our lives, our struggles and our joys. And ultimately that our God loves us so much that He opens the gates of salvation for us so that He can be with us and we can be with Him forever.

And speaking of names, let us also remember that through our baptism, we also received a name – the name Christian, a name that means literally “little Christ.” We remember that the effect of this visitation of our God is that He calls us to be like Him; that when people see us, they see Him; that we are a living reflection of the God who is with us and comes to save us. God is not distant. He is right here, by our side, in our hearts, on our altar. He is sharing our struggles, walking with us in our suffering, laughing with us in our joys, sharing with us in our triumphs, always there when we need Him; and always calling us to reflect His image to the world. This is Emmanuel, this is Jesus. God is with us and will save us. So, what’s in a name? Nothing less than our salvation.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

I have a secret for you!

HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 16, 2018:

There was a particular monastery a while back had reached a point of crisis. The monks were leaving, no new candidates were joining, and people were no longer coming for prayer as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old, depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a certain holy hermit living nearby and decided to consult him. He told him how the monastery had diminished and now looks like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the abbot that he has a secret for him. One of the monks now living in his monastery is actually the Messiah, but he is living in such a way that no one could recognize him.

With this incredible revelation the abbot went back to his monastery, summoned the monks and recounted what the hermit told him. The old monks looked at each other in disbelief, wondering who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has this holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Peter who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and never fasts. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of concealing his true identity. This only made them more confused. At the end of the meeting what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the them, except himself, could be the Christ.

From that day, though, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they are speaking to could be the Messiah. They began to show more love for one another, their common life became more brotherly; their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and started coming back for to be spiritually fed. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in joy and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that is so easy to overlook – that Christ was living in their midst.

We heard in Luke’s Gospel today, “The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” As our Advent moves steadily on towards Christmas, we are filled with a joyful expectation to welcome Christ once again into our hearts and our lives. But, we also realize that our celebration is not a mere commemoration of the arrival of Christ 2,000 years ago – something that happened long ago and far away, but we are being called to wake ourselves up again to the reality God is in our midst – all around us – here in this Church, in His Word proclaimed, in the Sacraments shared, in each one of us gathered in His Name – but also out there in the streets, in all of the many people we encounter – whether friend or foe, family or stranger, rich or poor, happy and healthy or hopeless and in need – our God is present everywhere and is just waiting for us to discover Him.

But the world is working overtime hoping that we won’t recognize Christ among us. There are instead voices of fear and anxiety that would rather have us be suspicious of one another and afraid; that would prefer if we demonized each other and treated one another as anything except brothers and sisters. But, this is not God’s message. This is not the message that this season hopes to renew in our hearts. God has come among us in the hopes that we will realize that we are all luminous beings and that God fills us and surrounds us with His presence so that we will be united in peace, mercy, love, joy and compassion – that these are the things that will transform us and our world into the Kingdom He promised.

My friends, I have a secret for you today – Christ is actually living in our midst but in such a way that perhaps we do not recognize Him. So, what are we to do? John the Baptist, today shows us. He calls us to faithfulness and care in the normal circumstances of life: If you have more than you need, share with those who have less; be honest; do not take advantage of the vulnerable; cherish your children; be faithful to each other; live in peace – and open our eyes to the presence of Christ all around us.

But, most of all we are being called to bring Jesus, the Light of the World into the darkness of our world. Let that Light be born in us and let Jesus use us to fashion a new world and bring forth the Kingdom of God. On our part, we must open our hearts and look with new eyes and hearts, and welcome everyone we encounter as though it were Christ Himself. Only then can we both be the presence of Christ in our world, but also meet Him in the people we encounter.

My friends, “Again, I say, rejoice! The Lord is near!”

May the Lord give you peace!

Friday, December 7, 2018

God is stronger!


A woman was having a very busy day at home caring for her five children. On this particular day, however, she was having trouble doing even routine chores - all because of three-year-old Kenny. He was on his mother’s heels no matter where she went. Whenever she stopped to do something and turn around, she would nearly trip over him. After stepping on his toes for the fifth time, the young mother began to lose her patience. When she asked Kenny why he was acting this way, he looked up at her and said, “Well, in school my teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. But I can’t see Him, so I’m walking in yours.”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our commemoration of the reality that Mary was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother Anne. This is a belief that dates back to the earliest days of the Church, and is not a feast about an abstract theological concept, but rather it is a concrete sign to us of God’s care for us, and of God’s triumph over the darkness of the world.

And I think that our world needs to hear this message more today than any time in my memory. We live in a world of chaos. We live in a world of violence and division. We live in a world of suspicion and fear. And to that confusion and fear we hear the words spoken by the angel to Mary in our Gospel: “Do not be afraid.”

Pope Francis, echoing perfectly the message of today’s feast, said, “Around us there is the presence of evil. The devil is at work. But in a loud voice I say: God is stronger.” My friends, let that message settle deeply into your hearts tonight – God is stronger. Today’s feast reminds us that God was stronger than the stain of original sin in the life of Mary. God was stronger than the darkness that enveloped the world at the time of Christ’s birth. God was stronger even than death itself in the resurrection of Jesus. God is stronger than the evil that fills our world today. He is stronger than anything that might seem insurmountable in our lives today.

There are no shortage of voices in our world today that are proclaiming the opposite message, that says, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” It is a message that says we should look at one another with suspicion and fear; with doubt and anger – that we should treat our brothers and sisters as something less than human, something less than men and women who have been created in God’s image. But to that message of fear, we are reminded today that God is stronger, “do not be afraid.”

Pope Francis when he inaugurated the Year of Mercy a few years ago said, “Two things are necessary to fully celebrate the day's feast. First, to fully welcome God and His merciful grace into our life; second, to become in our own times 'workers of mercy' through an evangelical journey...In imitation of Mary we are called to be 'bearers of Christ' and witnesses of His love, especially towards those who are most in need."

The Holy Father reminded us that fear takes root when we fail to welcome God’s mercy into our lives. We are reminded that our call is not to be messengers of fear, but workers of mercy, imitators of Mary, bearers of Christ, witnesses of love. Do not be afraid. God is stronger than evil. God is stronger than any darkness in our world; any darkness in our lives.

My friends, Mary reminds us today that we are called to be holy people; to draw near to God and be united with Him. Belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary is belief in a provident God; a generous God - a God who provides for the future, who prepares us for life even before we are born, a God who foresees and equips us with all the natural and supernatural qualities we need to play our role in the drama of human salvation, a God who is stronger than the darkness of our world.

Let us today be inspired by our caring God and by the example of Mary; let us follow in her footsteps. Let us strive to conquer the fear of our world; the fear in our hearts; and to be the workers of mercy who bring God’s gentle, kind, loving and compassionate presence to our world so desperately in need.

Let us ask our Blessed Mother’s intercession for all these things as we pray together, Hail Mary…

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

"Have you not seen me?"


Let me begin today by sharing one of Leo Tolstoy’s stories called “The Cobbler and His Guest.” In the city of Marseilles there was an old shoemaker named Martin who was loved and honored by his neighbors. One Christmas Eve, as he sat alone in his little shop reading of the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus, and of the gifts they brought, he said to himself. “If tomorrow were the first Christmas, and if Jesus were to be born in Marseilles this night, I know what I would give Him!” He rose from his stool and took from a shelf overhead two tiny shoes of softest snow- white leather, with bright silver buckles. “I would give Him these, my finest work.” Replacing the shoes, he blew out the candle and retired to rest. Hardly had he closed his eyes, it seemed, when he heard a voice call his name...”Martin! Martin! You have wished to see Me. Tomorrow I shall pass by your window. If you see Me, and bid Me enter, I shall be your guest at your table.”

Martin did not sleep that night for joy. And before dawn he rose and tidied up his shop. On the table he placed a loaf of white bread, a jar of honey, and a pitcher of milk, and over the fire he hung a pot of tea. Then he took up his vigil at the window. Soon he saw an old street-sweeper pass by, blowing upon his thin, gnarled hands to warm them. “Poor fellow, he must be half frozen,” thought Martin. Opening the door he called out to him, “Come in, my friend, warm yourself, and drink a cup of hot tea.” And the man gratefully accepted the invitation.

An hour passed, and Martin saw a young, miserably clothed women carrying a baby. She paused wearily to rest in the shelter of his doorway. The heart of the old cobbler was touched. Quickly he flung open the door. “Come in and warm while you rest,” he said to her. “You do not look well,” he remarked. “I am going to the hospital. I hope they will take me in, and my baby boy,” she explained. “My husband is at sea, and I am ill, without a soul.” “Poor child!” cried Martin. “You must eat something while you are getting warm. Let me give a cup of milk to the little one. What a bright, pretty fellow he is! Why have you put no shoes on him?” “I have no shoes for him,” sighed the mother. “Then he shall have this lovely pair I finished yesterday.” Martin took down from the shelf the soft little snow-white shoes he had admired the evening before. He slipped them on the child's feet...they fit perfectly. The poor young mother left, two shoes in her hand and tearful with gratitude.

Martin resumed his post at the window. Hour after hour went by, and although many people passed his window, and many needy souls shared his hospitality, the expected Guest did not appear. “It was only a dream,” he sighed, with a heavy heart. “He has not come.” Suddenly the room was flooded with a strange light. And to the cobbler's astonished vision there appeared before him, one by one, the poor street-sweeper, the sick mother and her child, and all the people whom he had aided during the day. And each smiled at him and said. “Have you not seen me? Did I not sit at your table?” Then they vanished. At last, out of the silence, Martin heard again the gentle voice repeating the old familiar words. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…Whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Today, my friends, is the First Sunday of Advent and for us it is the start of a new Church year. We find ourselves today once again back at the beginning of our great story; back to Chapter one of the story of how Jesus came and saved us.

We begin again with the things that prepared us for the coming Savior and so today we heard from the prophet Jeremiah who said, “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” That promise of course, was fulfilled in Jesus. Likewise our Gospel called us to seek the signs that something momentous is on the horizon, something unprecedented, something that will forever change our lives.

Advent is preeminently a time to prepare for the arrival of Jesus. We remember both His arrival 2,000 years ago and we look forward to His return again in glory. But, as we look both back and forward, don’t forget to look down right where we are to become always more aware of Christ’s daily arrival in the ordinary events and the ordinary people in our lives. He wasn’t only present 2,000 years ago and at some point in the future – He is present right here in our midst today – if our eyes are open to see Him.

Our Gospel today reminds us that we should be vigilant to recognize and welcome the Lord who comes to us without warning everyday in the people, the places and the events we least expect. If we are preparing for the Lord’s coming by looking up to the sky, Luke today invites us to instead look out, to look to the person on our right and our left, to see the arrival of God that is before our eyes every day, to look into the story of our daily lives and recognize the Lord who comes to us in the ways we least expect.

Jesus doesn’t care how much money we make, how many fancy cars we own, how nice our home is, how many people work for us. Jesus won’t even ask us how many times we went to Church, or how many times we prayed – because those things only have value if they have lead us to the main criteria for salvation – did we love – without restraint, without condition, without measure? Our spiritual lives and prayer practices are crucial, necessary, we can’t live or be saved without them. But, these prayers are only working if they lead us to action, to love, to reaching out, to actively loving “these least sisters and brothers of mine.”

So, let us so resolve on this first day of a new Church year, to be people ever more aware of the presence and action of Jesus in our lives in the big ways and in the small ways – in the many ordinary people He sends into our lives every moment of every day. And let us be people who witness to that presence in the lives of others – especially in those places that need God’s presence more than ever. Let us make this a holy Advent, leading to a holy Christmas, an even holier year for us all.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Make us new!

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

God is not done with us yet!

At the closing Masses for Holy Rosary and Holy Cross churches, Fall River, MA:

As we gather in this beautiful church today, we have to acknowledge that there is a sadness hanging over our city, and over this place. We gather today for the final Mass in this beautiful church and we know that we are not alone – this weekend also marks the final Masses at three of our Catholic Churches here in Fall River – Holy Rosary, Holy Cross, and St. Anne’s. There is a sadness that hangs over us and it is heavy. It has to be acknowledged and honored – but I believe it also needs to be infused with a note of hope.

Our hope is based on the great legacy of this church and its people, and the effect this legacy has had in so many lives. This legacy began with the founders of this church - women and men of deep Catholic faith. They came to this spot in the city and they built a church that reflected the needs of the community. They were people for whom God was the center of their lives. And they, and the generations that came after them – right up until you and me here today – kept the doors of this church open to respond to the faith needs of not just this community, but really of the world.

And, they did incredible things in the name of faith. So many of you have shared the wonderful stories of faith with me over these last many weeks – stories that have spanned generations. This Church welcomed those came through her doors. Here countless many were baptized and confirmed so that they would know Christ, and bring Christ to all those around them. They were married here, buried from here, lived their lives with this Church as its center. Every moment from the day the doors of this church opened until today has honored the legacy of the good people of faith who have called themselves members of Holy Rosary and Holy Cross Church. And for this legacy, and the difference it has made, we are profoundly, deeply grateful. It is a legacy that has shaped and molded so many into the people they are today.

In the midst of the sadness of this day, as I have prayed about my words today, God has consistently been putting something else on my heart – a note of hope that has been with me so strongly that I have to share it with you today. My friends, what I keep hearing in my heart in prayer is simply this – God is not done with us yet. 

I keep thinking of the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis. In chapter 12, we hear, “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.’”

Today may be the sad day that the doors of this church building close, but it is also a day in which God is renewing His call in each of our hearts – He still needs us to be His hands to the poor around us, He still needs us to be His voice to those who have not yet heard His word; He still needs us to be His presence to those in sorrow, His love that is the only antidote to the darkness of our world. He still needs us to go from this place and bring its legacy of faith to other parts of our city that need our holy presence.

In the story of Abraham, God gave him difficult news that was a challenge for him to hear – God told him to leave the place he knew, the place he’d always lived, the surroundings that were familiar, the faces that he knew and knew him. But, God didn’t just tell Abraham to leave. He told him that there was something new waiting for him – something full of blessings that Abraham could not imagine. Surely at this message, Abraham was scared. Surely, he was unsure. Perhaps he was angry, and just maybe he didn’t even really believe it. I’m sure that, like us, today, some part of him wanted to hold on to all he knew and stay there in that place forever.

But I also know something else – he went. And God accomplished in Abraham everything that He promised. God promised him a legacy of descendants who were greater in number than the stars of the sky, or grains of sand in the sea. You and I are those grains of sand, we are those shining bright stars. And although today we are being called to go from this place, God is not done with us yet. And what God did for Abraham and Sarah, God will do for those of us who are his legacy.

You and those who have come before you for more than a century in this church have done everything possible to honor the legacy of faith here. You’ve done it by loving your neighbor. You’ve done it by being good stewards of this place. You’ve done it by being men and women of forgiveness and compassion, kindness and joy. You’ve done it by trusting that God never forgets His children, and always leads them where they should go.

As we leave here today, one last time, may we renew our commitment to carry our legacy with us – wherever God is leading us. Carry that legacy as people who serve God and our neighbors. Carry that legacy as we join another community of faith. My deepest prayer is that you will continue to be a part of the Cathedral parish, one of the parishes of our new collaborative, or one of the many other beautiful churches in our city. We need you. God needs you. God is not done with us yet.

Next week as we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, we will all begin anew. We will engage this journey as we do each year with the Holy Family – another family who were called by God to leave the home they knew to embark on a new adventure. I know that it is not easy to leave this place, but if we do it with God at our side, He will journey with us, and lead us to blessings we could have never before imagined.

God's words to Abram, I think, are also His words to us today, “I will make of you a great people, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” to all who encounter you. My friends, God is not done with us yet. Let us step into this new chapter together.

May God bless the people of Holy Rosary and Holy Cross churches. And, may the Lord give you peace.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

The end is near!!


Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They thoughtfully made a sign saying, “The End is Near! Turn around now before it’s too late!” and showed it to each passing car. One driver didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted, “Leave us alone!” The car sped by and then all of a sudden the priests heard a big splash. They looked at each other and the one holding the sign said, “Maybe we should just write ‘Bridge Out Ahead’?”

We find ourselves today in the final weeks of our Church year, and our readings echo the same theme to us, “The end is near!” Next Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, and a week later, the First Sunday of Advent. We will begin again the great cycle that recalls the history of our salvation beginning with the prophets, leading on to the birth of our Savior, recalling His death, His resurrection, His words and His saving deeds. But, before we get there, we’ll spend these days reminding ourselves about endings. The end is near!

The Church gives us this annual cycle not just as a reminder; but in the hopes that we will find ourselves in it. We don’t simply, once again, tell the story of Jesus. Instead, we’re meant to hear that story and realize that it is our story too. We’re meant to live it. We don’t only recall Jesus birth, but Jesus becomes born in us again. We not only recall Jesus suffering and death on the cross, but we see ourselves on that cross with Jesus, we find Him present in the midst of our own suffering, helping us make meaning of it and uniting it to His sanctifying grace. We not only recall that Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the Father in Heaven, but we become resurrected people. We feel that resurrection Jesus offers us in the midst of the struggles of our own lives, we praise God for the gift of the ultimate resurrection when we too will join Him and all who have gone before us in the glory of Heaven. 

Hopefully, we have had some powerful moments of connection with that great story over course of the last year. Today, our Scriptures call us to reflect on that. Just like any journey when we reach our destination, we look back at where we’ve been and evaluate what kind of journey it has been. Today and over the next two weeks we should be asking ourselves: How has this year been? Have our spiritual lives grown in ways we could have never imagined? Or, upon reflection, do we realize that just maybe we haven’t gone anywhere, still stuck in the same spot we were last year? Have we become better people, holier people, more Christ-like people? How has God’s Word, and the Body and Blood of Jesus changed and transformed?

In our First Reading, Daniel recalls some hard times for God’s people. Daniel writes about 500 years before Christ. Wars and distress are all around. In the midst of this turmoil what do we hear from Daniel? Words of doubt, words of fear, words of anger? No, we hear that God will take care of His people. “The wise shall shine brightly…and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever,” he writes. In the midst of challenge and distress, Daniel calls the people to trust their faith in God and live accordingly. Though wars and disasters whirl around them, God will send them Michael, the Prince and guardian to defend them.

In our Gospel, Jesus, too, speaks about the end times. He also speaks of wars and distress. In the midst of this, the Son of God, will come with power and glory to offer salvation to God’s people. He uses that image of the fig tree pointing out that if we can pay attention to natural signs and adjust our lives accordingly; we should do the same when we see the signs of our salvation. We are called to be alert and active – to be ready – so that when the end comes, our names will be worthy of the Book of Life, and we too will make our way to Heaven.

My friends, today we are called once again to renew our trust in the Lord. As we look back on the past year, we probably have experienced some joys and triumphs, as well as some storms and distress. Our trust tells us that ultimately – whatever the tribulation or the triumph, God is always present with us, God is always leading us and guiding us, and God will always in the end save us.

Today, especially as we receive the Blessed Sacrament, let us again invite Jesus to be born in our hearts and made new. Let us unite all of our struggles, challenges, trials and tribulations with Him on the cross. Let us welcome the newness of life that He offers us through the resurrection both today and at the end of our days. My friends, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” Read the signs of our own spiritual lives. And let us pray in trust the words of our Psalm, “I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Giving it all away


A man died suddenly and found himself in front of St. Peter. “Welcome. I just have to take a look in the Book of Life to see if you can enter heaven.” St. Peter shook his head discouragingly. “It doesn’t look too good, my friend. It appears you’ve never done anything for anyone but yourself. You’ve been greedy, selfish, and power hungry. I’m not sure we can let you in.” The man, now worried, said, “How about the time that I came across the woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers? I grabbed a baseball bat, went right up to them and said, ‘Leave the woman alone or you’ll have to deal with me.’” St. Peter looked at the book again and said, “Well that is impressive. But, I don’t see it in my Book. When did that happen?” The man said, “About three minutes ago.”

My friends, it is never too late to give all that we have. We heard in our Gospel passage, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Today’s Gospel sets two completely different images side-by-side for us. First we see the scribes with their long robes, the many honors they receive, and their great skill at praying, and behind them, rich people making large offerings. The second image is of this woman, a widow, who makes an offering of two small coins worth mere pennies. And because it is easy to overlook a penny lying in the street, it could be easy for the people to overlook this widow and her contribution.

But Jesus focuses our attention on her and her coins because Jesus sees something of His own life in this woman. Jesus says, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Or as other translations put it more plainly, “She has given her whole life.” The woman’s gift is a reflection of Jesus own life. She gave everything she had; even those meager coins; and in turn she was blessed by the Lord. Just as Jesus will Himself give His very life for us. It reminds me of a quote of St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”

In Mark’s Gospel, this story comes just before the events of Holy Week; days before Jesus will give His whole life on the cross. Jesus turns our attention to the woman because in her, as in Jesus, we discover that the Kingdom of God is found not in holding on to what we have, but in letting it all go. As Jesus says repeatedly, “Those who want to save their life will lose it. And those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

This is a lesson we all need to hear. We may suffer terrible losses that rob us of those we love, like the widow. We may grieve, and we may mourn, we may face every kind of struggle, challenge and strife in life and we may ask ourselves “Why?” But there is only one way through loss – the way of love. The way through our challenges is by opening our hearts; giving ourselves; holding nothing back; surrendering everything to the Lord.

What are we holding on to that is keeping us from completely embracing the Lord and His all in our lives? We can be held bound by past hurts and grudges; by the things we fail to forgive in others, or the forgiveness we fail to seek. We can be held captive by bad relationships, bad habits – the things we know we need to walk away from if we are to be close with Jesus. The answer for us will be simple – open our hands, open our hearts, open our lives – and then just let it all go. It is then that we create a new space in our hearts that can only be filled by the incredible love that God has for each one of us.

The widow today gives us a glimpse of our life in Christ – hands open, giving all that we have, all that we are, so we can gain the glory that only comes from God. We too are called today to find what she found, that all we have comes from God and should be returned to God. Only then will we have life to the full. We too are called to open our hands and release whatever we are grasping; whatever we are holding; to give all that we are and all that we have to Christ. Only then can we gain the Kingdom He has promised.

“Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Won't you be my neighbor?


Our Scriptures today brought to mind a childhood memory. Sing with me if you can: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head the rest of the day. If you’re like me, you’ll remember that Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood every day with that song. As a child, like most, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood every day. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, all the same cast of characters. And, always the same, simple question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Today, Jesus is posing the same question to us from our Gospel. In today’s passage a scribe asks Jesus one of the most fundamental questions of faith, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” The textbook answer, of course, is to love the Lord our God with all that we are. But, Jesus does’nt stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy the question, but challenges His listeners to expand their vision of that love to understand that loving God means loving your neighbor.

Jesus makes the point that anyone who loves God must also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of our neighbor. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. [And], you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus challenges a one-dimensional understanding of love that allows religious people to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.

Pope Francis, speaking on this same topic, said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and the face of our brothers and sisters. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present.”

Our world needs this neighborly reminder more today than ever. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. Not to mention the murder of 11 people praying in a Pittsburgh synagogue last week – all killed simply because of their faith. Ironically, did you know that synagogue is located literally in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood? Fred Rogers lived just a block away from that spot.

Jesus must be wondering what has happened to our neighborhood? To these challenges, the First Letter of John speaks to us, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our any of our brothers and sisters; any of our neighbors – especially those who are different from us; especially those whom the world rejects; especially those who are most in need; especially those who are persecuted for any reason. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the faces of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God. Fred Rogers once said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” My friends, let us all be heroes. Let us all be neighbors. Because when we reach out to each other, we have the chance to touch the very face of God.

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Mookie Betts and the Kingdom of God


This is a sleepy week for Red Sox Nation – especially after last night’s record setting 7 hour, 18 inning World Series Game. I have to adjust my prediction now to Red Sox in 5 games! My favorite moment of this World Series so far is, actually, not anything that took place on the field, but rather the actions of one player off the field - Mookie Betts. Mookie has had one heck of a season and is on a well-deserved course to be named MVP. But, in addition to his skill as a ball player, I always love to watch the pure joy with which he plays baseball. Watching him is like watching little leaguers in their childlike thrill for baseball. He just seems like a great guy.

That was confirmed this Wednesday. After winning Game 2, Mookie went home to celebrate with friends and family. They had a huge buffet of Dominican food, and Mookie and his friends insisted they could eat the whole countertop full of chicken, steak, rice, beans, vegetables, and flan. They stuffed themselves, but finally they admitted defeat.

That’s when they had the thought, “We should go and give it away the rest.” They recalled the line of people who usually sleep wrapped in blankets, shivering on cardboard boxes, next to Boston Public Library. It was amost 2 a.m. and just 37 degrees out, and Mookie and a friend wrapped themselves in warm clothing and headed out into the night. Grabbing a nearby shopping cart, they loaded it with tin foil trays, plastic silverware, napkins and wet naps, and cases of bottled water. They gently woke a few people to offer them dinner, and within a few minutes close to two dozen men and women were eating. “Thank you so much,” one of them said. “We were hungry all day.”

Mookie declined to comment, and never intended anyone to find out. His friend said, “It was just the right thing to do.” None of the homeless that night recognized Betts. No one cared that he will likely be the MVP, that the Sox won a record 108 games this season and is two wins away from a title. You see, he didn’t act in his capacity as a baseball celebrity. He acted in his capacity as a human being – one who had the choice between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing. He chose the right thing. Betts is baffled by the attention he has received, as he considers it an ordinary act of kindness.

I was thinking of this moment as I reflected on the healing story of blind Bartimaeus in our Gospel today. Of all of the healing stories in the Gospels, this is the only one where we are told the name of the person healed and so that must mean something. Mark gives us the name “Bartimaeus” – a name which is a hybrid of both Aramaic and Greek, and has two different meanings in each.

First the name Bartimaeus in Aramaic means "son of defilement." So, Bartimaeus could be a nickname given to him because he was a blind beggar and popular belief of the time said that blindness was a punishment for sin. On the other hand, the name Bartimaeus in Greek means "son of honor." And so, by giving us this name with its double meaning, Mark is telling us something important. Bartimaeus is supposed to be a man of honor in God’s sight, but is instead being treated as a man of defilement. What Jesus did for him was not simply heal his physical sight but, more than that, Jesus restored his God-given destiny and dignity. “Take courage; get up! Jesus is calling you!” Jesus heals not only Bartimaeus’ eyes, He heals his soul, his dignity, his very humanity.

And, I think, this is the challenge Jesus places in our lives too. In our increasingly fractured world, Bartimaeus is all around us. We encounter Bartimaeus, like Mookie did, in the many homeless and hungry on the streets each day. We see him in the people whose human dignity has been stripped away because of their race, their ethnicity, their political affiliation, their gender, their immigration status, or any of the countless ways our world decides some are unworthy of dignity. Our world today constantly turns people into sons and daughters of defilement; not worthy of our time, our concern, our care, or compassion. But, Jesus once again calls us to open our eyes so that we can see everyone sons and daughters of honor, of dignity, of holiness; worthy of our love and care.

Mookie Betts did such a simple thing this week. He took his excess and gave it to those who had nothing. But far more than food, he gave them dignity as brothers and sisters on the journey. True and lasting healing lies in lifting up hearts that were broken, in reconciling relationships that were shattered, in seeking out forgiveness when we have wronged another, in looking into the eyes of someone that the world has forgotten and saying, “I see you. You have value and dignity. You are loved and treasured in my eyes and in the eyes of God.” How easy it is for us to choose to be healers too – we have the power to heal our world.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. May our answer be the same as his, “I want to see.” Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us for the times when we have been blinded to your presence around us; especially in those who need to be lifted up the most. Master, we want to see.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Mega Billions in the Kingdom of God


By a show of hands, how many us played the Mega Millions this week? Yes, I confess, that I couldn’t resist grabbing a Quick Pick this week too. As we all discovered this morning, none of us won, and now the pot has grown to $1.6 billion. I guess they’ll have to rename it the Mega Billions! I bet as you purchased your one-in-260 million chance of winning, you probably gave some thought to what you would do with the cash. Perhaps pay off some bills, buy a new house or car, start a business, go on some wonderful trips, quit your job. The more philanthropic among you hopefully thought you’d give a nice chunk to St. Margaret’s or other worthy causes. It is easy to think of the “things” that a lot of money could do in our lives, but, I wonder, do you think that winning would make your life happier?

I came across a study of more than 3,000 lottery winners that asked: All things considered, how happy would you say you are? They found that winners were certainly more comfortable than they had been, which makes sense if they don’t have to worry about bills and the like. Surprisingly, though, they did not find any noticeable increase in happiness because of their win. Similarly, Forbes Magazine conducted a study of the happiest professions in the United States. They did not find bankers, business people, or money managers on their list. The happiest people are: artists, teachers, physical therapists, firefighters and the number one spot? Priests!

Last week, I mentioned a quote of Pope Benedict who said, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Greatness and wealth; greatness and comfort; greatness and power – these are not usually the same things. This question is also at the heart of our Gospel today. Our passage shows us this grab-for-glory by two of the disciples – James and John – who want a privileged place in the Kingdom; one at the right and one at the left of Jesus. They are grabbing for what they believe to be success and greatness – an important position in the Kingdom and the perceived power that comes with it. But, Jesus turns their question on its head, “You do not know what you’re asking,” He tells them. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

This is a timeless message of the Gospel – greatness is found by being the least; success is found in servanthood. Yet, how often we treat that message as quaint and fail to embrace it. James and John learn the hard way that greatness isn’t determined by accomplishments, wealth, power, or status. The measure of our success and happiness is whether or not we are cooperating with God’s plan. If there is one thing we know for sure, it is this: God created everyone for success. As Pope Benedict said, we are created for greatness. God did not create any one of us for failure. They key is to make our measure of greatness the same as God’s measure.

For most people, as for James and John, success means to be head of the pack. To succeed means to excel. Success is measured by comparing one's achievements against “competitors;” stacking up your wealth against another’s. That’s why James and John go to Jesus and instead of asking that they be granted a place in His kingdom, they ask for prime position; a position of perceived power.

Jesus teaches them a new meaning of success. Success means realizing and fulfilling God's dream for you. There can be no life happier than that. Jesus is inviting us not to compete, but to cooperate with Him. He is inviting us not to plot for conquest, but to learn to listen to the plan that God speaks to our hearts; not to sew divisions based on color, nationality, status or wealth, but to be unified as members of One Body.

James and John today represent the mentality of our world which encourages unbridled ambition, and the ruthless triumph over our rivals, rather than seeking to discern God's will for our lives. It encourages unhealthy competition, rather than cooperation and the contentment of realizing that when we become servant to one another we achieve a greatness that nothing can take away.

God has more than enough dreams to go around, a different dream for everyone here today, a different dream for every single person in the world. Our goal in life should be simply and only this: to discover and live God's dream for us; to serve one another and find greatness in that service. And that, my brothers and sisters, is the only true measure of success, of greatness, and of happiness: what would God have me do? Because if we don’t fulfill God’s dream for us – who will?

“Whoever wishes to be great among you, first among you, will be the servant of all.” And if each of us does that, never mind 260 million-to-one, I guarantee we will all win. May we achieve the greatness that God has dreamed us for.

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

What are you listening for?


One day, two friends were walking along the crowded streets of a big city. The street was full of the noise of people, cars, buses, construction – the hubbub of city life. Suddenly, one of the friends stopped and said, “Can you hear that cricket?” The other friend said, “You can’t possibly hear a cricket with all this noise.” The man was certain and walked over to a planter along the sidewalk. Pushing aside some branches, sure enough, there was the cricket. His friend was bewildered, “How did you ever hear that?” The man simply said, “My ears are no different than yours. It just depends on what you’re listening for. Let me show you what I mean.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change and dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately, every head within a block turned in his direction. “You see,” he said again, “it just depends on what you are listening for.”

Our Gospel today asks the same question, “What are you listening for?” We heard the rich young man ask Jesus a straight-forward question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him, “Sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The story ends that “he went away sad, for he had many possessions?” I always feel sorry for this young man. He certainly meant well. He tells us at the outset that he has faithfully observed all of the commandments from his youth. But, what Jesus asks of him is just too much to bear.

Did you know this young man is the only person in the Gospels that we are specifically told refused to follow Jesus once invited. Imagine saying “no” to Jesus invitation in your life. As I said, he meant well, but his trouble was that his possessions meant more to him. What was he listening for? This man was faced with a choice – security with Jesus, or security in the bank; rely on Jesus or rely on wealth. It is a human predicament that we’ve all felt at one time or another, and the sad situation of this passage is that the young man chose to listen to the voice of the world instead of the voice of the Lord.

And of course the passage reaches out to us today too and asks, “What voice are we listening to?” What is holding us back from following Jesus? What is it that’s causing us to drag our feet? Could it also be money? Maybe not the money we need to live, but perhaps a dishonest way of making it, a habit of cheating, or overcharging, or stealing that has found its way into our lives? Could it be our need for the best of possessions in life? More possessions in our lives? The newest gadget? The name brand?

Maybe it isn’t money or possessions for us at all. It could be something else – it could be the grudges we refuse to let go of; the forgiveness we fail to seek out or to offer to others; maybe it’s the indifference to the struggles of others. You see, to follow Jesus is to follow in love. “Love one another, just as I have loved you,” He told us. Perhaps what is keeping us from following Jesus is a spirit of negativity or judgment, an attitude that always finds the worst in others; a tongue that is always quick to cut down. It could be as simple as laziness – being too lazy to care; too lazy to say our prayers; too lazy to make a difference to anyone.

I wonder sometimes what happened to the rich young man. Did he become a rich old miser? Did his money make him happy? Did he lose it all along the way? Jesus visited him and invited him into the wonder of a life lived for Christ – a life that makes a difference; a life that matters. He walked away. He missed the chance to do good; to reach out to people; to serve Jesus in the world as His follower. Imagine if our spiritual heroes and heroines had made the choice. What if St. Paul had said no; or St. Peter or St. Andrew or St. Mary Magdalene or St. Pope John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa, or those holy men and women who Pope Francis declared saints today in St. Peter’s Square – St. Pope Paul VI and St. Oscar Romero. These are women and men whose lives made a real difference in the world because they chose to say yes when Jesus said, “Follow me.”

I recently saw a Mark Twain quote that said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” We are reminded today that Jesus is the answer to the second part. Jesus is the “why” that makes all the difference in our lives. Pope Benedict said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”

You know, I like to think that the rich young man eventually came to his senses. I like to imagine that after walking away with a sad heart, he realized his mistake and not only returned, but came back running. I like to believe that he changed his mind and made a choice with all of his mind, his heart, and his being – and followed Jesus all the way to the eternity he first asked about. I like to think that he realized the most valuable possession in his life is his faith and the relationship that Jesus invited him into – and that in the end, he made a difference.

So, what are you listening for? What has the greatest hold on your heart? May we too be possessed by nothing more than our love of God, our desire to serve, our hunger for holiness, and our call to make a difference in our world.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Who do you say that I am?


One day the famous Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping one night, Holmes woke Watson and said, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars.” Holmes asked, “And what does that tell you?” Watson replied, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small in comparison. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And what does it tell you Holmes?” To which Holmes answered, “It tells me that someone stole our tent.”

A simple question can elicit very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Up to this point in Mark’s Gospel there have been many answers to that question. They have said, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” They said, “He is possessed.” They said, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” They said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,” or “He is Elijah.” They have had many answers.

Up until now, they haven’t quite gotten a handle on just who Jesus really is. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and all of heaven is silent, listening intently to how they will answer. And when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” the angels are dancing and the heavenly choir is resounding, the saints in glory are cheering and the confetti is flying. They get it! They see Jesus as He is. “You are the Christ.”

And this question of who Jesus is reflects right back to us today. Understanding who Jesus is, tells us who we are. Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” because what He really wants to get at is – once you know who I am, who are you? What are you about? His words are not academic or theological, they are relational and loving. And, today they are meant for us to think about who Jesus is and in turn, who are we and what are we about as people who follow Him?

The point is that recognizing who Jesus is – “You are the Christ” – must have consequences to who we are and how we live and how we view the rest of the world. Everything in our lives flows from that recognition of who Jesus is for us. It calls us to spread our faith; to live a life of love and joy, compassion and caring – to a degree that the world has never seen before; to not do just “enough” but to do the extraordinary – in and with and through Christ! The answer to that simple question will make all the difference in our lives and in the life of the world.

Mark told us today that Jesus asked His question in Ceasarea Philippi; a city marked by devotion to false gods. It is there that Jesus asks His most important question. He didn’t ask in the Temple; or after a reading from Isaiah pointing to the Messiah. He asks, who do you say that I am, in the midst of a place that worships everything except the One True God. It is there, that He says essentially, now is the time to make a choice. In the midst of all of these competing things; these competing gods; these competing idols that surround you – who will you say – here – that I am? And who will you choose to be because of Me?

This question of our identity as followers of Jesus, and as His church, could not be more important than it is right now. After all, scandal arises when who we say we are and what we do are at odds with each other. We find ourselves in this challenging moment precisely because people who said they follow Jesus acted in ways that couldn’t be further from Him. And in the midst of this moment surrounded by false Christians because of scandal, Jesus asks the question again – who do you say that I am?

There are many people, maybe some of us, who ask in the light of scandal what does it mean to be a Catholic? What is my identity as a member of this church? Pope Francis speaking in Sicily today said, “Life speaks louder than words. The person who witnesses to hope does not indicate what hope is, but who hope is. Christ is our hope.”

My friends, as we seek to call the church once again to holiness, let us remember that Jesus is asking us today the same old question: who do you say that I am? I pray that our response will be generous and courageous, that it will be compassionate and prophetic. Generous in showing love to everyone. Courageous in standing up for justice everywhere – especially for those who are victims. That it will be compassionate in the way we deal with those who have been wounded by our world, even wounded by members of the church. That we will be prophetic in our proclamation of the Gospel so that the world will once again know clearly who we are as followers of Jesus, and what we stand for. That this scandal does not make our faith, or our church, irrelevant – in fact, it makes it needed more than ever.

I pray that when tempted to walk away, we instead roll up our sleeves and fight for what we believe in, fight for who we are because of our faith in Jesus, fight for the church – from the Pope to us in the pews – to be true to who we say we are by what we say and do.

Lord Jesus, you are the Christ, the One who has come to save the world. In Your love, You have called us and saved us. Let us be true to Your word, true to Your Gospel, so that all who see us will see You. Renew us today in Your love. Renew us today in Your mission. Renew us today, Lord, in Your word, so that what we say and what we do reflect only You and Your love for the world. May we stand for holiness, goodness, truth, and justice, and may Jesus strengthen us so that our lives will speak louder than our words.

Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Be opened! Be healed!


We hear today one of the most truly amazing healing stories in all the Gospels. “People brought to [Jesus] a deaf man. He took him off by himself, put his finger into the man’s ears and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ -  that is, ‘Be opened!’ - And immediately the man’s ears were opened.” Whenever I hear this miracle story, I can’t help but think about an incredible miraculous moment in my own life.

From about the age of 10, I had a problem of recurrent fluid build up in my inner ear that left me nearly 100% deaf in my left ear. I had surgery to remove the fluid a few times, but it would always inevitably return. It was one of those things that over time you just learn to live with and so I spent a lot of time making sure people were on my right side – my good ear – and would say, “Could you repeat that?” an awful lot! Basically, I never thought that the situation would change, and I had simply grown comfortable with my lack of hearing.

But, then, a little more than 10 years ago, I was stationed in a parish in Connecticut, and we got word that a woman by the name of Vicka would be in the area, and wanted to come visit our Franciscan parish. Vicka is one of the visionaries who believe that the Blessed Mother appeared to them beginning in the 1980s in a place called Medjugorje in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now, please know that the Church has not yet ruled on the validity of these apparitions and I’m not claiming to do so today, but this is a place that I have visited a few times, and a place where I find the presence of God and His Blessed Mother to be very powerful.

So, Vicka, in addition to receiving these apparitions is also known to have a gift of healing. Since she was in the area of our parish visiting friends, she offered to come to our parish and pray over anyone who was sick. We assembled different people that we knew could use prayer – a young person who was very ill, the wife of our deacon who was suffering from cancer, and others, for example. When Vicka came, we thought that she would pray only over the sick, but we were all gathered in a circle and she just moved person to person, praying over everyone. As she approached me, she simply placed her hand on my head and prayed silently. She didn’t say a word, but just prayed for a bit in her simple, humble, and quiet way.

Now, I had never even thought about praying for my hearing, and so instead I prayed silently that God would heal anything that needed healing in my life. I prayed that He would strengthen me in my priestly vocation. And, I prayed, as I always did, that my Dad would one day desire to be baptized. As she prayed over me, her hand gripped my head tightly, and I felt a pop in my ear, much like the pop you feel when coming down from a high altitude, but I didn’t think much of it. I was simply caught up in what was a beautiful, prayerful evening, and before you knew it, everyone went home, and I went off to bed.

But, the next morning I nearly jumped out of my bed when my alarm went off. And it wasn’t because I was running late. You see, I was laying on my good ear, which meant I normally would only hear the alarm as from a distance, but instead it was as though the volume was on 11! Shaken, I got up and took my shower, and I’ll never forget the sensation of hearing the water as it fell from my head over my “bad” ear. It was suddenly dawning on me that something was different. I kept covering my good ear to test and could not really believe that I could hear. Once I was dressed, I ran to the kitchen where Fr. Mike was, covered my good ear, and said, “Talk.” Of course, I could hear every word he said clearly. It had been healed, and it was among the most joyful moments I can recall in my life.

“[Jesus] said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ – that is, ‘Be opened!’ – and immediately the man’s ears were opened.” I imagine that the deaf man in our Gospel experienced something similar to my experience that morning 10 years ago. Like me, maybe he thought that this was something he just had to live with. Like me, science or medicine didn’t give him his hearing. And, for me, it wasn’t even Vicka that gave me back my hearing as she would be the first to tell you that it isn’t her power that does these things. For both of us, in fact for anyone who experiences healing, it is Jesus who does the work. It is an encounter with the living God that brings miracles into our midst. Because Jesus touched the deaf man, shared his humanity with him, the man’s ears were opened. We heard in Isaiah today, “Be strong! Fear not! Here is your God. He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared.”

Here is your God. Here is our salvation, told in the story of two deaf men – one in our Gospel and one standing before you. The Gospel story was so amazing that the people who witnessed it couldn’t keep to themselves. That deaf man’s name has been lost to history – even though countless people know his story. But whether we realize it or not, his story is our story; my story is our story.

To all of us who feel isolated, cut off, or living in silence – Christ reaches out. To all of us who feel lonely or different, damaged or confused, to all of us who struggle to understand – Christ bends down and touches us. To all of us who have closed ourselves off from love, from change, from the possibility of miracles – Christ calls out: Ephphatha! Be opened. Even to those of us who feel angry with the church and wounded by her sins – Christ wants to touch us with His healing power so that we can be healed and renew our witness to the Gospel for the world.

This miracle teaches us that an encounter with Jesus brings something we all need, something that I discovered a new on that morning after Vicka’s visit – clarity. It brings understanding. What was muffled becomes clear. Things come into focus make sense. And after letting Christ into our lives, we are finally able to express something that could never quite put into words – that we are made new.

On that morning for me Christ answered two prayers – one I didn’t know I needed like the healing of my deafness; and one that I prayed for – my father did become a Catholic just a few years after that. So, with miracles on our minds, in our hearts, let us again invite Jesus to heal any deafness that hangs over us – anything physical or spiritual that keeps us from hearing His word in our hearts, and speaking His word to our world. The world needs the clarity that comes from living and knowing and proclaiming the Gospel. Even in the midst of scandal, the world needs to hear the loving, compassionate, and healing words of Jesus that only we can proclaim. Sometimes we learn to live with deafness and don’t even seek out its healing because change is hard. But Christ renews His call to each of us today, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” And let Jesus come in. Be opened to God’s presence deep in your hearts. Be opened to what God wants to do in and through and for you. Because if we do – when we do – the result will be nothing short of miracle.

May the Lord give you peace.

Changing the impossible

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